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Under California law, the owner, occupant or lessor of a premises (owner-operator) is generally the one legally responsible for dangerous conditions or activities on the premises. The owner-operator has a duty to exercise ordinary care in the use, maintenance, and management of the premises in order to avoid exposing persons to an unreasonable risk of harm. Under limited circumstances, landowners may be strictly liable for harm caused to another on their property. These same general duties apply whether you are on private, commercial, or public property.
The types of dangerous conditions that can give rise to a claim for premises liability range from a slip/trip and fall; to dangerous stairs; to poor lighting; to incidents that occur in restaurants or stores. The injuries can be severe and often result in significant medical bills and lost wages. If you have suffered an injury on another’s premises it is important to secure photographs of how the premises presented at the time of the incident, as well as the names and phone numbers of any witnesses. This is critical because things will often be changed on the premises and defendants will later try to blame the injured party for being careless.Negligence in Premises Liability Claims
Just because someone is injured by a dangerous property condition does not automatically trigger a premises liability claim. The victim must prove the owner-operator was somehow negligent, such as by:
- Negligently creating the dangerous condition that caused the injury;
- Negligently failing to properly maintain the property;
- Negligently failing to become aware of the dangerous condition or inspect the property; and/or
- Negligently failing to repair the dangerous condition upon becoming aware of its existence.
With negligence at the center of most premises liability personal injury claims, the victim must show a duty of care was owed to them by the defendant, the duty of care was breached, the breach caused the injury, and the victim suffered actual harm as a result.
An owner-operator has a duty to use reasonable care to discover, repair, and warn against dangerous conditions on their property in order to prevent injury. A victim must show the owner-operator breached that duty by dealing with the dangerous condition in a negligent manner and, in most cases, that they were the primary cause of injury and not someone else’s negligence.Harm from a Third Party
Unlike most states, California has expanded the owner-operator’s liability in the case of harm caused by an unrelated third party. Owner-operators are responsible for reasonably controlling negative third-party behavior that, given the history, location, and nature of the premises, should be expected. For example, for an owner-operator of a premises in a high crime area who knows there is a history of visitors to their premises being targeted by criminals, liability could attach if they do not remedy this dangerous condition by taking steps such as increasing lighting or hiring security guards.Comparative Negligence and Fault of the Victim
Property owner-operators may escape liability if the dangerous condition would have been obvious to a reasonable person. In such cases, a victim cannot argue the property owner-operator was responsible for their injuries. Furthermore, California employs the doctrine of comparative fault that may also lessen a victim’s recovery. Even if the owner-operator is at fault, the victim may be found to have a degree of fault as well. The percentage of fault allocated to the victim will lessen their damage recovery by a proportionate percentage.Public Entity Protection
In California, the government has a much greater exemption from liability than private entities in premises liability and other personal injury cases. A victim must be able to show that either:
- A public employee acting within the scope of their employment negligently created a dangerous condition; or
- The public entity had notice of the dangerous condition and had enough time to act to prevent the injury at issue in the lawsuit.
These additional protections afforded to public entities makes succeeding in premises liability more difficult for victims, as dangerous conditions created by a person on public property who is not a public employee do not incur liability for the entity unless a victim can show the government knew the condition existed.
If you or a loved one has suffered an injury as a result of a dangerous condition on the property owned or maintained by another, you should speak to an experienced attorney to ensure you rights are protected. At Walton Law, A.P.C., we have successfully handled several premises liability cases and understand the intricacies surrounding these difficult claims.
For a free and confidential consultation with an experienced San Diego premises liability attorney, please call us directly at (866) 338-7079, or click here to submit your inquiry online.